Dallas company criticized for “gentrifying” mahjong tiles

A Dallas-based mahjong company is receiving some of the first pushback of 2021, as its creators are being criticized of “gentrifying” the game of mahjong. The Mahjong Line markets itself as a “unique ” take on mahjong tile sets that represent the founders personalities, but they’ve been accused of trying to change a game that wasn’t theirs to begin with. 

Mahjong is a draw and discard game that requires 144 tiles adorned with Chinese characters and symbols. The game originated in China, and still maintains massive levels of importance to Chinese Americans. 

According to an earlier version of The Mahjong Line’s about page — which has since been changed — founder Kate LaGere and two other white founders wrote that traditional mahjong “did not reflect the fun that was had when playing with her friends. And nothing came close to mirroring her style and personality.” None of the women involved are of Chinese descent. 

What’s happening? Colonizers Annie, Bianca and Kate have discovered a new and improved tile game, once known as mahjong but now is a reflection of their individual style and fun. This is a textbook example of #culturalappropriation so happy 2021 everyone. pic.twitter.com/EYNpwmeRFR

The Mahjong Line’s website lists 5 sets of redesigned tiles for sale, all eschewing the traditional mahjong tile look and replacing it with western images and Arabic numerals. All the tile sets retail for at least $300. The company also sells various accessories, like a folio, the 2020 National Mah Jongg League card and a playing mat rack and pusher.   

Hello I have just learned some white girls are gentrifying mahjong for $425 a pop and boy do I have the time today!!!!!!!! What is this absolute nonsense!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/zTOxsq0yLl

Tweets about the company have received thousands of impressions online, with commenters focusing on the women’s lack of Chinese heritage and “disregard” for the origins of the game. 

Twitter user Jeremy Lee wrote, “My culture is one of the oldest civilizations in the world. It is a product of thousands of years of tradition and history.” It is not, he added “some cheap coloring book that can be filled-in and be ‘made pretty’ by the standards of privileged teenyboppers.” 

lol who are these white women gentrifying MAHJONG pic.twitter.com/cLGJkptVEX

cleansing the timeline with my grandma’s mahjong table pic.twitter.com/ZlOEPhUfpe

Following Tuesday’s outcry, the company suspended comments on its Instagram page and their website now features a reworked “About Us” page.

On Tuesday, the company released a statement apologizing for failing “to pay homage” to the game’s Chinese heritage. “Using words like ‘refresh’ were hurtful to many and we are deeply sorry,” read the statement. “It’s imperative our followers know we never set out to ignore or misrepresent the origins of this game and know there are more conversations to be had and steps to take as we learn and grow.”  

In a statement to CBS News, the founders said they “are committed to working with those who can further educate us on the Chinese origins of the game so that its deep-rooted traditions are not lost in the American take on it moving forward.”

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